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Influential- though vile and ponderous
February 15, 2013 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Fifty Sci-Fi and Fantasy Works Every Socialist Should Read (by China Mieville)
posted by showbiz_liz (146 comments total) 76 users marked this as a favorite

 
(The original link is down at the moment.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:11 AM on February 15, 2013


Awesome! I hope I can find some fraction of these in audio form as my physical fiction reading is almost nil nowadays.
posted by DU at 8:15 AM on February 15, 2013


Ayn Rand—Atlas Shrugged (1957)

Know your enemy. This panoply of portentous Nietzcheanism lite has had a huge influence on American SF. Rand was an obsessive “objectivist” (libertarian pro-capitalist individualist) whose hatred of socialism and any form of “collectivism” is visible in this important an influential—though vile and ponderous—novel.


Indeed.
posted by goethean at 8:20 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like this has been posted on Metafilter before, with maybe another list of books? But I might be thinking of a comment.
posted by corb at 8:21 AM on February 15, 2013


The same list was linked (on a different site) in this previous post.

Definitely worth its own post, though, especially given that the link in the previous post no longer appears to work.
posted by inire at 8:26 AM on February 15, 2013


[make an effort please folks? Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:28 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a great list. The Oscar Wilde children's stories have shaped my world view more than I'd care to admit.

I also wonder where Pratchett would sit in relation to this. Although not explicitly socialist Lord Vetinari's praise of politicians and Carrots rejection of monarchy in Men at Arms ("Have you ever wondered where the word 'politician' comes from?") and the biais towards good governance seems to me to be socialist in a British tradition.

A book missing from this list is one of my favorite green\socialist science fiction books. Acts of Destruction by Mat Coward is a near future police procedural set 20 plus years away in the UK. It's one of the most hopeful and realistic books I've read about the future in a long time. I'm always surprised so few people seem to know about it.
posted by Gilgongo at 8:40 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was surprised not to find Lord of the Rings on there, given the way Miéville (and Moorcock) like to bat Tolkien around like a piñata.

That said, this is a perfectly reasonable list.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:41 AM on February 15, 2013


I remember this as well, but either my memory is lousy or there have been some added since the last time it was posted.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:42 AM on February 15, 2013


This gave me deja vu, too, but it's a good list and I really enjoyed reading it, so I'm happy to see it again. Plus, I was reading The Dispossessed last time and part of me was just scanning for it in the list the entire time.
posted by byanyothername at 8:48 AM on February 15, 2013


Heh, I actually read 5th Head of Cerberus. It will always hold a special place in my heart.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:51 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Any list that includes Gormenghast is all right by me, unless it is a 'bad book' list, in which case the list is 100% wrong.
posted by jquinby at 8:52 AM on February 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


China Mieville's KRAKEN which is about a squid-worshipping cult is peppered with some very interesting characters (groups/religions) which all hold various political & social ideologies. I read Kraken a few years ago and I wish I could name a few but this list reaffirms his interest in the subject.
posted by Fizz at 8:54 AM on February 15, 2013


it's strange that he put in "A Scanner Darkly" to represent P K Dick. Even though it's set in a more recognizable universe it's really one of Dic's "epistemological" works: what does it have to do with socialism?

On the other hand, Dick's running commentary on consumer culture which you see in, say, "Do Androids Dream..." in Buster Friendly, and maybe even more important in the whole fetishization of pets... but also in the bottle-cap collecting in "The Man in the High Castle" is really insightful (IMHO much more than the 'deep' philosophy stuff that hollywood loves.)
posted by ennui.bz at 8:54 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


btw, I don't believe Mieville that Gene Wolfe is an ordinary, Catholic, red blooded American Republican. That's obviously just a loose waxen mask he wears so that no one will find the mirror made of water under the bed or the jar of eyes or the finger that leads you to your destiny or the motionless bodies which sometimes still whisper just before dawn or the frozen heart you thought you'd never find again or the map of the real America or the book that contains only a single written word which can be interpreted in infinitely varied ways...

The more normal he seems to be, the more sure I am of his secrets.
posted by byanyothername at 8:56 AM on February 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


COMRADE POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF STATE SECRETS

COMRADE POTTER AND THE DEATHLY DIALECTIC

COMRADE POTTER AND THE HALF-EXECUTED PRINCE

COMRADE POTTER GRADUATES FROM HOGWARTS, GOES TO CAMBRIDGE, WORKS A BIT FOR MI6, BETRAYS HIS COUNTRY AND THEN FUCKS OFF TO MOSCOW, THE BLOODY CHEEKY RASCAL

COMRADE POTTER MEETS MARTIN AMIS AND MARTIN AMIS EXPLODES BECAUSE HE'S ALL LIKE, HURF DURF STALIN WAS BAD AND ALSO HIS BOOKS ARE SOOO SOPHISTICATED AND SHIT AND CAN YOU IMAGINE IF HE MET HARRY POTTER AND HARRY POTTER WAS A COMMUNIST? DUDE THAT WOULD BE WEIRD FOR EVERYONE. WAIT IS THIS TITLE TOO LONG? IT SEEMED LIKE A GOOD IDEA WHEN I STARTED IT BUT NOW I'M WONDERING HOW I'LL WORK COMRADE DUMBLEDORE INTO THE STORY. ON THE OTHER HAND FUCK IT, CHILDREN WOULD BUY HARRY POTTER BOOKS IF THEY WERE CALLED "HARRY POTTER AND P.S., FUCK YOU, YOU 12-YEAR OLD WANKSTAIN." SO IT'S NOT LIKE I'M GONNA LOSE ANY SALES. ALSO RON AND HERMIONE DO IT IN THIS ONE SO THAT SHOULD DRAW IN THE TWILIGHT CROWD.

COMRADE POL POTTER AND THE BRUTAL GENOCIDE
posted by the quidnunc kid at 8:59 AM on February 15, 2013 [25 favorites]


The more normal he seems to be, the more sure I am of his secrets.

Anyone with that moustache has got to be trying to distract you from something.
posted by inire at 9:01 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry everyone, was just being silly. For the record, I like China M. and this post is of interest to me. Also I have a socialism of the heart.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:02 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I would totally pay to read Comrade Potter and the Chamber of State Secrets.
posted by corb at 9:03 AM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Re: A Scanner Darkly. It's the most acidically anti-capitalist Dick novel I've read. Corporations are treated as a macro-disease killing the social organism, corrupting everything down to individual relationships. I'm rereading it right now, and it's a pretty angry book in its rejection of the meanness, short-sightedness and lack of compassion in the "American Dream" and middle class US culture. I don't even know which scenes to point at: Dick is constantly referencing national corporate chains by name and treating their presence as intrusive and disruptive, there's the soliloquy about how every Big Mac is the same Big Mac and how that homogeneity is somehow poisonous to the soul, there's the "If I'd known it was harmless, I would have killed it myself" scene, the "junkies rescuing a cat" scene, the running joke about Donna's feud with Coca Cola which climaxes in Donna actually really shooting at and trying to run a Coca Cola truck off the road--only to nearly kill herself while the truck rolls on, totally oblivious that anything ever tried to disrupt its commercial path.

It doesn't offer a socialist alternative, but it's not about people in positions to offer a socialist alternative. Those people implicitly don't exist in the novel; its world is too corrupt for alternatives at that particular point.
posted by byanyothername at 9:05 AM on February 15, 2013 [14 favorites]


Gene Wolfe is a Republican Catholic?

...

I am...conflicted.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:10 AM on February 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Regarding Atlas Shrugged:

My mother, having seen the book on a reading list, or having heard about it somewhere, asked for it as a Christmas gift. My brother and I bought it. As we went to the cashier, my brother kept joking that the book felt heavier than it should have, that the book burned his hands if he touched the cover for too long.

My mother read a little of it and put it down by the front door, where it makes a great doorstop.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:14 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're going to use Rand as a doorstop, go all out and buy Fountainhead.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:17 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


COMRADE RAND AND THE PESKY DOOR AND THE STRANGE LACK OF PROPER DOORSTOPS
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:25 AM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Red Plenty?
posted by Jpfed at 9:29 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like how in the Philip Pullman entry, he says that The Amber Spyglass is "streets ahead of its competition."
posted by jbickers at 9:33 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


adamdschneider: "Gene Wolfe is a Republican Catholic?"

Oh my, yes. He talks about it a fair bit in this interview.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:39 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Great list.

I'd add "grow up reading Pat Mills comics" to it, but that may be a personal perspective.
posted by Artw at 9:39 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Re: A Scanner Darkly. It's the most acidically anti-capitalist Dick novel I've read. Corporations are treated as a macro-disease killing the social organism, corrupting everything down to individual relationships.

Huh. I guess you could read it that way. But I feel like it's just scenery: he doesn't really go into why corporate culture is bad. I see the book as being one more entry in "How do I know what I think is real is actually real?" file, with a special emphasis on amphetamines and a sort of commitment to naturalism in describing certain aspects of hanging out in California post-hippie drug culture. Ubik is more acid to me: capitalism making reality entropic.

I like how in the Philip Pullman entry, he says that The Amber Spyglass is "streets ahead of its competition."

What exactly is the competition?
posted by ennui.bz at 9:39 AM on February 15, 2013


COMRADE RAND AND THE SIGN OF THE DOLLAR
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:39 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would totally pay to read Comrade Potter and the Chamber of State Secrets

Someone remind me of my pressing writing obligations so I don't go out and write this tonight.
posted by The Whelk at 9:41 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ayn Rand—Atlas Shrugged (1957)

The best conspiracy theory/secret history I heard last year:
In 1923, Felix Dzerzhinsky of the Soviet Union's new State Political Directorate (GPU, which evolves into the NKVD and eventually into the KGB) decides to accellerate the collapse of capitalism and thereby hasten the triumph of socialism by launching a long-term agitprop campaign.

A young and impressionable history student in Petrograd, expelled from university when it was purged of bourgeois influences, is offered a chance to resume her studies under secret GPU auspices; upon graduation in 1924 she is granted admission to the State Technium of Screen Arts to study filmic techniques, and then sent into the United States in 1925 in order to subvert the burgeoning American film industry.

Her mission is not to inculcate Soviet propaganda in the US to spur a worker's revolution; that task belongs to others. No, her role is instead to exalt the very elements of capitalism that (according to Leninist theory) doom it to undermine itself; the selfishness, the alienation of worker from capital, et tedious cetera. By encouraging the plutocrats to glory in their excesses, it is assumed, she will awaken the revolutionary spirit in the workers and peasants of the world while insulatng the bourgeois classes in a comforting blanket of dogma that prevents them from adopting reforms that would mitigate the impact of capitalism and impede the progress of World Socialism.

The name she adopted for her mission was Ayn Rand.
posted by zamboni at 9:41 AM on February 15, 2013 [33 favorites]


This is a very good list (of course: China Mieville is a smart guy). I do appreciate that he managed to avoid the indulgent Tolkien bashing for this one.

Michael Swanwick—The Iron Dragon’s Daughter (1993) : this is such a good damn novel; maybe my single favorite SF/F novel ever. Just... so good. Regardless of politics you should read it. (and in general Swanwick's writing is great. His short stories amaze)

Gene Wolfe—The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972) - Gene Wolfe is an author whose immense intelligence and thoughfulness overcome any political differences we might have.

Kim Stanley Robinson—The Mars Trilogy (1992–96) - Yup. Although I gave up somewhere in the third book. There's just too much there to absorb detail-wise.

Ken MacLeod—The Star Fraction (1996) - I read the Cassini Division and thought it was awful, and my complaint was exactly the opposite of Mieville's compliment: I thought it was overwhelmed by political bias and didn't work as a result. Maybe I was being unfair, or maybe it isn't representative.

Ursula K. Le Guin—The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974) - Yup, she's amazing. Really all of her writing is very political, in a very thoughtful way.

M. John Harrison—Viriconium Nights (1984) -Yup.

Iain M. Banks—Use of Weapons (1990) - I really like Iain M. Banks, but there's always something kind of glib about his books that prevent them from engaging me on political/social issues. Also, Consider Phlebas was marvelously dark and I feel like he never really got back there (Ok, there is Against a Dark Background).

Who is missing? Well, maybe the author is just more familiar with British writers, but I think Samuel R. Delany absolutely must be on this list. Dahlgren, the Neveryon books... he's a perfect fit.
posted by selfnoise at 9:43 AM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ayn Rand—Atlas Shrugged (1957)

Know your enemy. This panoply of portentous Nietzcheanism lite has had a huge influence on American SF. Rand was an obsessive “objectivist” (libertarian pro-capitalist individualist) whose hatred of socialism and any form of “collectivism” is visible in this important an influential—though vile and ponderous—novel.


For god's sake, if you haven't read Rand but want to "know your enemy", don't waste your time on the interminable, laughably-terrible turd that is Atlas Shrugged when you can just read Anthem, which distills all of Rand's objectivist hatefulness into a not-wholly-unreadable 100-odd pages.
posted by dersins at 9:45 AM on February 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Jbickers, I noticed that too.

I am interested in categorizing Terry Pratchet's stance, too. I would say that he is against socialism. His stories are
lead by people who's heroic abilities are common sense and the ability to tell right from wrong.

I summarize his perspective like so: "there exists a definite right way for society and people to live - one of peace and hard, honest work. A right society requires a right leader to make sure the right thing happens at the right time. Leaders require absolute power, and also absolute privacy. A society that is lead by a democracy must have a secret leader to ensure the right thing happens."
posted by rebent at 9:51 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


ennui.bz: "I see the book as being one more entry in "How do I know what I think is real is actually real?" file"

I think it might be quicker to list PKD books that AREN'T in that file. Erm, Dr. Futurity, uh....
posted by Chrysostom at 9:53 AM on February 15, 2013


Regarding Atlas Shrugged:
My mother read a little of it and put it down by the front door, where it makes a great doorstop.


As opposed to putting it in the bathroom were it makes a rather rough wipe.

Interesting list. Some of these I have read and agree are fantastic thoughtful works, some are just puke.
Rand, I'm looking at YOU.

Yellow Wallpaper gave me the shudders. Could be that contributed to my hatred of yellow paint?
posted by BlueHorse at 9:56 AM on February 15, 2013


I thought Ubik was a fun but not very meaty romp through death and the paling of time. The only social commentary I can see there is in the scenery! Like, the way Joe Chip's appliances all harangue him and charge him to use them. By contrast, ASD is my favorite Dick novel because I think it's lightest on the whole "What is real?" / "Where's the line between madness and reality?" thing. It's almost nonstop tragicomic commentary on the mundane world rather than a sci-fi satire. It's less "drug book" and more "War On Drugs book," really, with all the various entanglements between drug users and law enforcers and the whole rotting, corrupt social system that supports that. There isn't ever really any slippery reality stuff in the story; Bob's weirder experiences are just the result of his being manipulated by people higher up in that corrupt system.

Anyway, I don't think it's a socialist book, but I get why it's there. Dick is documenting a wreck more than explaining how the wreck happened or what we can do to not wreck.
posted by byanyothername at 9:56 AM on February 15, 2013


I summarize his perspective like so: "there exists a definite right way for society and people to live - one of peace and hard, honest work. A right society requires a right leader to make sure the right thing happens at the right time. Leaders require absolute power, and also absolute privacy. A society that is lead by a democracy must have a secret leader to ensure the right thing happens."

So not just anti-socialist but actually authoritarian?
posted by adamdschneider at 9:57 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think this needs to be my new reading list. I’ve read some of the authors, but "The Iron Heel" and "We" are the only things I’ve already read.

The first thing on the list though is Ian Banks. I don’t really know much about him but people seem to like him a lot. I’ve read "The Wasp Factory" and hated it. Wikipedia says that was his first book. Does it get better? Sometimes I write someone off because the limited exposure I had was negative. I heard Radiohead’s "Creep", thought it was terrible, and didn’t listen to them again for years.
posted by bongo_x at 9:57 AM on February 15, 2013


I summarize his perspective like so: "there exists a definite right way for society and people to live - one of peace and hard, honest work. A right society requires a right leader to make sure the right thing happens at the right time. Leaders require absolute power, and also absolute privacy. A society that is lead by a democracy must have a secret leader to ensure the right thing happens."

Surely Vetinari's level of competence is (deliberately?) unrealistic. A supergenius benevolent dictator could produce better outcomes for society than democracy could, but he has to exist first.
posted by inire at 10:00 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Does it get better?

Banks is not going to be for everyone, bongo_x, and that doesn't necessarily make you a bad person. I consider his Use of Weapons to be one of the finest SF novels of the 80s and 90s and my personal favorite.

Seeing it first on this list made me irrationally happy.
posted by Justinian at 10:03 AM on February 15, 2013


bongo_x, others will be able to make specific recommendations re where to start (as I've not read his books for years), but people who like him a lot are generally talking about his Culture books.
posted by inire at 10:03 AM on February 15, 2013


Wikipedia says that was his first book. Does it get better?

He has matured enormously as an author since that book, and has a really broad range of style and subject matter. I like his contemporary stuff that's grounded in the real world, but a looooot of people like the Iain M Banks space opera stuff. It goes from there to really weird deconstructions of reality.

If you're at all curious I'd recommend you try some of his other stuff even if you didn't like Wasp Factory. Of course nobody will die or shame you if you don't like it, but I like it enough to think it's worth encouraging.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:04 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The first thing on the list though is Ian Banks. I don’t really know much about him but people seem to like him a lot. I’ve read "The Wasp Factory" and hated it.

Actually, what you want to read is Ian M. Banks, the science fiction author (note: same person.) I think "Consider Phlebas" is the best of the "Culture" books because he actually remembers that the Culture is actually a negative utopia of the post-soviet liberal capitalist democratic end-of-history extrapolated. Some of the other Culture books are good, some, I think, are terrible but after CP Banks sort of fell in love with his creation and hasn't really tried to show why "The Culture" is actually a dystopia.


posted by ennui.bz at 10:05 AM on February 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


I’ve read "The Wasp Factory" and hated it. Wikipedia says that was his first book. Does it get better?

It gets different. For non-SF read The Crow Road, all the others are retreads of that in one way or another. For SF Use of Weapons or Player of Games should give you a good flavour.
posted by Artw at 10:07 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


It gets different. For non-SF read The Crow Road, all the others are retreads of that in one way or another.

I mostly agree with that sentiment, but Crow Road (Although IMHO very good) is one of the densest books he's written, so I'm hesitant to recommend it for that reason alone.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:09 AM on February 15, 2013


Fizz: China Mieville's KRAKEN which is about a squid-worshipping cult is peppered with some very interesting characters (groups/religions) which all hold various political & social ideologies. I read Kraken a few years ago and I wish I could name a few but this list reaffirms his interest in the subject.

I think quite a lot of his non-fiction is actually about the role of ideologies in science fiction, and he's co-edited a collection of essays on socialism in sci-fi.
posted by daniel_charms at 10:14 AM on February 15, 2013


Not sure why you'd pick Use of Weapons out of the Culture books for this "You know, for socialists!" list. The Player of Games has more about what the Culture is.

I read the Cassini Division and thought it was awful, and my complaint was exactly the opposite of Mieville's compliment: I thought it was overwhelmed by political bias and didn't work as a result.

Well, it is overwhelmed by political bias, but it's Ellen May Ngwethu's bias, not MacLeod's. Ellen is writing this stuff down for the "benefit" of her fetus and the race of Space Commies she plans to start in the comet cloud around New Mars. She talks up the Solar Union as if it were an early-stage Culture, but she can do that because her audience will never see the real thing and her crew of uber-ideologues aren't going to contradict her. Who the hell knows what it was really like?

Related: what the hell was really happening in Glasshouse?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:18 AM on February 15, 2013


Some of the other Culture books are good, some, I think, are terrible but after CP Banks sort of fell in love with his creation and hasn't really tried to show why "The Culture" is actually a dystopia.

I don't think you can reasonably describe the Culture as either utopia or dystopia; different characters in different books have different perspectives about it. Matter is particularly interesting this way.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:19 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]



I don't think you can reasonably describe the Culture as either utopia or dystopia; different characters in different books have different perspectives about it. Matter is particularly interesting this way.


Matter is a weird Culture book. It starts off as a fairly self-contained riff on Terry Pratchett/Discworld and then turns into a Culture book almost by accident.

I don't think strong AI is really compatible with the Anarchosyndicalist/Socialist world view. If there actually are beings who are impossibly smarter and better informed than you are, why shouldn't they rule? That's the tension in the Culture books, that the Culture is basically a human-zoo for a bunch of hyper-intelligent AI's warping around in militarized space ships. Banks takes this seriously in Consider Phlebas but it degenerates into a leitmotif in the later books and the invincible hyper-militarized AI's become almost cuddly instead of sinister.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:28 AM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


also,

I read the Cassini Division and thought it was awful, and my complaint was exactly the opposite of Mieville's compliment: I thought it was overwhelmed by political bias and didn't work as a result.

There's something impossibly goofy and highly entertaining to me about a Trotskyist space opera written by an anarcho-libertarian with an overpowering love of British folk music.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:31 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


> Related: what the hell was really happening in Glasshouse?

Bad things happened to worse people, in a place that was about as far down the memory hole as it is possible to be. Exile-among-peers, from which no return is possible in the short to medium term, is presented as the only sane societal option for dealing with soldiers, and to a lesser extent weapons, when The War Is Over. (All the while a typically holier-than-thou Strossian examination of the morality of the present day runs as a sideshow.)

Pretty utopian if you ask me.
posted by Fraxas at 10:38 AM on February 15, 2013



I don't think strong AI is really compatible with the Anarchosyndicalist/Socialist world view. If there actually are beings who are impossibly smarter and better informed than you are, why shouldn't they rule? That's the tension in the Culture books, that the Culture is basically a human-zoo for a bunch of hyper-intelligent AI's warping around in militarized space ships. Banks takes this seriously in Consider Phlebas but it degenerates into a leitmotif in the later books and the invincible hyper-militarized AI's become almost cuddly instead of sinister.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:28 AM on February 15 [+] [!]


Ha. I don't think you'll find very many anarcho-syndicalists and socialists that are defaulting to egalitarianism because there's no reliable way to determine who is smarter and better and therefore should rule.

I'm not terribly familiar with the Culture books so I don't know what Banks' argument is, but I don't have any real problem imagining an egalitarian world that includes a non-heirarchical place for very smart robots.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:39 AM on February 15, 2013


I suppose my response, as something of an anarcho-syndicalist, would be that I take issue with coercive power structures, not the intelligence or ability of the rulers. (Although I do occasionally wish that if we were to be ruled that our rulers would demonstrate some competence, but that's more of a bitter aside than a political ideal)
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:42 AM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Bad things happened to worse people, in a place that was about as far down the memory hole as it is possible to be.

Is it? Or is it really just the rehab facility / rest home for war criminals that it claims to be? Sometimes I think that the whole Evil Experiment/Plan is a part of the treatment plan forthe inmates in the sanatorium to rebel against and emerge from before embarking on their period of quiet contemplation.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:44 AM on February 15, 2013


I'm not terribly familiar with the Culture books so I don't know what Banks' argument is, but I don't have any real problem imagining an egalitarian world that includes a non-heirarchical place for very smart robots.

Isn't that imagining a thing and it's opposite at the same time? Either you have an egalitarian society or a hierarchy. Even in a society that is nominally egalitarian, a class of beings who are objectively superior will ultimately rule, even if the untermenschen aren't necessarily aware of it... which is exactly the situation in the Culture books.

In Consider Phlebas, the main human character is a sort of anarchist type who decides to join up with a religious fundamentalist "jihad" rather than be subject to and inevitably ruled by the machinations of the Culture ships. It ends being an interesting commentary on today's state of affairs vis a vis the "War on Terror."
posted by ennui.bz at 10:55 AM on February 15, 2013


He sure likes the meta aspect. I haven't read much from this list but I didn't see a lot that caught my eye. I did not like The City & The City and have shied from Mieville since. (thanks for posting, though, of course)
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:56 AM on February 15, 2013


Ken MacLeod—The Star Fraction (1996) - I read the Cassini Division and thought it was awful, and my complaint was exactly the opposite of Mieville's compliment: I thought it was overwhelmed by political bias and didn't work as a result. Maybe I was being unfair, or maybe it isn't representative.

The Star Fraction is at least twenty times better than The Cassini Division. And The Stone Canal might be even better.

Although I love the bit in The Cassini Division where an ambassador completely disavows the actions of his planet's predecessors, saying "That wasn't us at all" (with the implication, "We should not be held accountable for what they did.") And the response is, "They look back on their past selves and disavow them. In the future they may look back on their present selves and dismiss their current actions and promises the same way."
posted by straight at 11:02 AM on February 15, 2013



Isn't that imagining a thing and it's opposite at the same time? Either you have an egalitarian society or a hierarchy. Even in a society that is nominally egalitarian, a class of beings who are objectively superior will ultimately rule, even if the untermenschen aren't necessarily aware of it... which is exactly the situation in the Culture books.



Egalitarianism does not necessarily assume that all members of society are of equal ability or means.

Relationships that don't involve dominance can (and do) exist between 'unequal' parties. Even if "objective superiority" exists, there's nothing compelling it to rule.

I think that if you can imagine super intelligent, superior robots, you should be able to imagine a universe in which power isn't stratified and hierarchical.

(Just to clarify, I'm not trying to be dismissive or sarcastic with all my quotation marks. It's just worth noting that some of those are really contestable concepts in the first place.)
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:02 AM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


My first Culture book was, Player of Games, the AIs came off as extremely manipulative. I likened them to utilitarian Greek gods, they had no reservations about messing with the humans if it served what they thought was the greater good.

Great book, not sure I would want to live there.
posted by KaizenSoze at 11:04 AM on February 15, 2013


I’ve read "The Wasp Factory" and hated it. Wikipedia says that was his first book. Does it get better?

Depends on why you hated it. If you disliked the violence/torture/sadistic aspects of the novel, Banks does them in his later novels as well, though less abundantly. As a writer however he has improved a lot since then.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:09 AM on February 15, 2013


I read the Cassini Division and thought it was awful, and my complaint was exactly the opposite of Mieville's compliment: I thought it was overwhelmed by political bias and didn't work as a result. Maybe I was being unfair, or maybe it isn't representative.

The protagonist of The Cassini Division is not quite reliable and her narrative cannot be trusted.

Apart from that, all of MacLeod's novels differ from each other. The first four (The Star Fraction, The Stone Canal, The Cassini Division and the Sky Road) are a loose future history, with each novel having its own political point of view, from the echt-communism of the Cassini Division to the proper libertarianism of The Stone Canal.

The next three, (Cosmonaut Keep, Dark Light and Engine City) the ones Ken is least pleased with, take all the tropes of UFO literature and science fictionalise them.

Newton's Wake is a post-singularity novel similar to Charlie Stross' Singularity Sky/Iron Sunrise, but with humanity left scrabbling across the galaxy in the wake of a hard singularity.

Learning the World is a first contact novel with humans in the role of inscrutable uberpowerful aliens.

His last four (The Execution Channel, The Night Sessions, The Restoration Game and Intrusion) are all near future novels dealing directly with contemporary world politics, each however with a very science fictional sting in their tail.

Politically MacLeod is an old school Trotskist socialist with some libertarian sympathies; in some novels this is more obvious than others. If you like Stross, Reynolds, Banks, you'll like him.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:25 AM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


The protagonist of The Cassini Division is not quite reliable

Not quite reliable? She's a genocidal monster.
posted by Justinian at 11:40 AM on February 15, 2013


Man, I gotta read that book again! It was years ago and I must have really misunderstood it. Thanks for the comments all.
posted by selfnoise at 11:54 AM on February 15, 2013


Justinian: "Not quite reliable? She's a genocidal monster."

Those are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:55 AM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


His last four (The Execution Channel, The Night Sessions, The Restoration Game and Intrusion) are all near future novels dealing directly with contemporary world politics, each however with a very science fictional sting in their tail.

Politically MacLeod is an old school Trotskist socialist with some libertarian sympathies; in some novels this is more obvious than others. If you like Stross, Reynolds, Banks, you'll like him.


I thought Intrusion was a straightforward (and annoyingly so) Libertarian (with a capital L) screed. I know everyone says MacLeod is a Trotskyist but I guess I'm not in the inner party... maybe he's just making arguments to sucker libertarians into some dialectical conversion process.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:05 PM on February 15, 2013


Weirdly just about anyone who writes anything I'd think of as a socialist SF writer active today regularly gets nominated for the Prometheus libertarian SF awards.
posted by Artw at 12:07 PM on February 15, 2013


In Consider Phlebas, the main human character is a sort of anarchist type who decides to join up with a religious fundamentalist "jihad" rather than be subject to and inevitably ruled by the machinations of the Culture ships."

The main character is an assassin who works for a civilisation of religious zealots who want to destroy the Culture just because it exists. They are the bad guys in the story.

The Culture are the heroes even though the book isn't told (mostly) from their point of view.
posted by antiwiggle at 12:09 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ahh, Consider Phlebas truthers...
posted by Artw at 12:13 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


The only truth I got out of Consider Phlebas was that it was not a very good way to start reading the Culture books.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:14 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's really an oversimplification of the book.

Um, yeah.
posted by selfnoise at 12:14 PM on February 15, 2013


So I should not read these books if I am libertarian then?
posted by trol at 12:16 PM on February 15, 2013


The only truth I got out of Consider Phlebas was that it was not a very good way to start reading the Culture books.

It's the absolute best way to start reading them! Preferably without being aware there is such a thing as "Culture" books!
posted by Justinian at 12:18 PM on February 15, 2013


It has the potential to be an excellent book of about half it's size, and Banks capitalized on that later on, but as is it's rambly as hell.
posted by Artw at 12:29 PM on February 15, 2013


Weirdly just about anyone who writes anything I'd think of as a socialist SF writer active today regularly gets nominated for the Prometheus libertarian SF awards.

Yeah, it's like the nominators are more complicated than internet straw men or something.
posted by Zed at 12:32 PM on February 15, 2013


So I should not read these books if I am libertarian then?

No, then you should DEFINITELY read them
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:34 PM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Weirdly just about anyone who writes anything I'd think of as a socialist SF writer active today regularly gets nominated for the Prometheus libertarian SF awards.

Yeah, it's like the nominators are more complicated than internet straw men or something.


Well, on the other hand, I totally would have told you Vernor Vinge was one of those socialist SF writers until I read some of his earlier stuff and realized he was hardcore libertarian.
posted by Artw at 12:39 PM on February 15, 2013


MartinWisse: "The next three, (Cosmonaut Keep, Dark Light and Engine City) the ones Ken is least pleased with, take all the tropes of UFO literature and science fictionalise them."

Wow, it's almost a body blow to read that. Those are by far my favorite MacLeod books, and reading those three caused me to buy the rest of his work. Which, honestly, I haven't liked nearly as much. The Cosmonaut Keep series actually posits a universe I'd kind of like to live in. And I've always hoped he'd return to that universe. Which I guess is unlikely.

No reason for writing this, just felt like I had to say something, because this shocked me. The more you learn, I guess.
posted by scrump at 12:39 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think everyone's forgetting an admittedly forgettable minor character in Consider Phlebas. So forgettable, I've forgotten her name.

But! She was the one in a (billion? trillion?) humans who could solve problems the way the Minds do in the Culture. And that, the first book of the Culture series, explains that it's largely because any human has the potential for this capacity that the Minds play fair. Not because the of the trivially insignificant number of humans who could do this but because humans can, which makes any individual human potentially the equal of the Minds. Which means the Minds - if they are to set the rules - have to rule the humans "in."
posted by digitalprimate at 12:43 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Egalitarianism does not necessarily assume that all members of society are of equal ability or means.

No, but it depends on the lack of an objective means of determining who is the better in any given situation. I mean, in every situation I know which opinion is correct, most likely my own opinion. But if in all situations HAL is coming up with the correct answer and everyone recognizes that, then HAL even if it is just a box with an eye and blinking lights i.e. has no direct power, gains power almost in proportion to it's ability to be all-knowing.

It's also a plot problem with the Culture books, the ships are literally Deus ex machina. The only way they could exist in an egalitarian society would be if they were compelled to follow rules like Jehovah agreeing not to break the laws of physics. But, an all-knowing, or practically speaking all-knowing, and unconstrained being can subvert any democratic or "market" process.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:43 PM on February 15, 2013


Politically MacLeod is an old school Trotskist socialist with some libertarian sympathies; in some novels this is more obvious than others. If you like Stross, Reynolds, Banks, you'll like him.

I rather like the fact that he doesn't have everyone from X-political-group act like a dick to make Y-political-group seem better.

More naive politicalish sci fi has "noble socialists versus the poorly written oligarchs" or "noble libertarians versus the poorly written collectivists" whereas he'll have X and Y having to cooperate to deal with Z, or an Outside Context Problem.

I thought Intrusion was a straightforward (and annoyingly so) Libertarian (with a capital L) screed. I know everyone says MacLeod is a Trotskyist but I guess I'm not in the inner party... maybe he's just making arguments to sucker libertarians into some dialectical conversion process.

I haven't read Intrusion yet, but I think it may that he's just a more honest writer than most, so he's willing to entertain and portray political stances that he doesn't completely share.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:44 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The next three, (Cosmonaut Keep, Dark Light and Engine City) the ones Ken is least pleased with
Surprising. Do you have a link to an interview? I believe you, but I'd like to see his thoughts on it.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:46 PM on February 15, 2013


I hate Newtons Wake as well and kind of gave up on him at that point. I'll have to pick up the later books at some point, as it sounds lie he had a change of tack.
posted by Artw at 12:52 PM on February 15, 2013



No, but it depends on the lack of an objective means of determining who is the better in any given situation. I mean, in every situation I know which opinion is correct, most likely my own opinion. But if in all situations HAL is coming up with the correct answer and everyone recognizes that, then HAL even if it is just a box with an eye and blinking lights i.e. has no direct power, gains power almost in proportion to it's ability to be all-knowing.



I don't see the problem. You can ask the robot for advice, and heed that advice, without giving it institutionalized authority. Having really smart people, or really smart robots, doesn't make socialism fail. We all contribute to society to varying degrees.

Socialism isn't a meritocracy, you don't get more power for demonstrating exemplary skill. It's not to say that we've failed to find a properly meritorious ruler, but rather that rulers are undesirable regardless of their ability and intentions.

I get the feeling that you're talking about more than just an exceptional individual though. We're talking about a perfect individual. So, it seems that what you're winking at is a question like, "can socialism and god exist at the same time?" "Can an omnipotent, omniscient being cohabitate with socialism?" The provable existence of a divine being is getting into the realm of the wildly theoretical, but the anthem some of us still march by is, "No Gods, No Masters."
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:03 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I totally would have told you Vernor Vinge was one of those socialist SF writers until I read some of his earlier stuff and realized he was hardcore libertarian.

For me it was halfway through Rainbow's End when I realized how totally unlikable all of his charactes were and how unrelentingly nasty the world he'd created was.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:05 PM on February 15, 2013


Left wing theory and religion have had a very long and coloured history. Given that many people in the world believe in divine power, and many do not, this has already been the subject of a lot of debate. There are a lot of different answers, depending on what brand of political ideology or religious philosophy you subscribe to.

The question has been asked though, and many theories of socialist/anarchist thought find no contradiction in the idea of god and socialism coexisting. Being wildly secular, I don't usually have to deal with the notion of god and socialism existing side by side, but a lot of socialist thinkers have happily accepted that both can be possible.

On the other hand, the implication of "no gods, no masters" is of course that deities would be undesirable even if they could exist.

I'm not likely to see a socialist utopia or a provable god in my lifetime, so hey, I guess that's what science fiction is for.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:11 PM on February 15, 2013


Nice to see a nod to Swanwick's "The Iron Dragon's Daughter." That book blowed my mind.
posted by zzazazz at 1:12 PM on February 15, 2013


For me it was halfway through Rainbow's End when I realized how totally unlikable all of his charactes were and how unrelentingly nasty the world he'd created was.

Here's the weird thing: I really liked almost the same set of characters he'd written earlier in a novella, and was happy to see then again, and then had the same experience.
posted by Artw at 1:13 PM on February 15, 2013


I get the feeling that you're talking about more than just an exceptional individual though. We're talking about a perfect individual. So, it seems that what you're winking at is a question like, "can socialism and god exist at the same time?" "Can an omnipotent, omniscient being cohabitate with socialism?" The provable existence of a divine being is getting into the realm of the wildly theoretical, but the anthem some of us still march by is, "No Gods, No Masters."

exactly. the Culture ships are, for all practical purposes, gods. do you really want to live in a society (the Culture) with gods?

but, the critique of egalitarianism is always that it requires worse opinions to be chosen over better (see: Plato's Republic.) even in a world without god-like AI (or any AI when it comes down to it) you have to admit that a egalitarian or democratic decision process will result in the worse winning over the better... sometimes. but then you argue that democratic systems are at least homeostatic and convergent... or something.
posted by ennui.bz at 1:14 PM on February 15, 2013


Well, as Bakunin said, "if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish Him."
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:26 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


It seems to me that there's a whole wave of SF&F work lately that's explicitly dealing with issues of culture and ethnicity, feminism, post-colonial societies, and non-European literary influences. A bit of a shout-out to some of those authors (who still never seem to be shelved at my local B&N) would be nice.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:29 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ennui.bz, that also is assuming that there exists a "better." I guess I'm a little anarchic in that I am not sold on that. I think that authoritarian systems are bad precisely because they assume that one person (i.e. Vetinari) has the ability and therefor authority to determine what is good for others. Egalitarianism, in my mind, accepts that things aren't going to be perfect all the time, but at least each person themselves is part of the process of determining what to try next.

I wouldn't mind super-smart computers using force to compel the world to be totally egalitarian. But I would hate if computers made decisions at the exclusion of humans.
posted by rebent at 1:30 PM on February 15, 2013


My main objection to the Culture is "everyone hates a tourist."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:36 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I totally would have told you Vernor Vinge was one of those socialist SF writers until I read some of his earlier stuff and realized he was hardcore libertarian.

There is such a thing as libertarian socialism; when you squint at certain forms of libertarianism and certain strains of socialism they seem to be approaching the same goal from different directions.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:57 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


ArtW: I'd add "grow up reading Pat Mills comics" to it, but that may be a personal perspective.

Charley's War probably influenced me more than anything else when I was growing up.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:15 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some Vinge seems like that, other times it seems more Randian screed - The Peace War and some of the associated short stories take it to a bit of a nutty level.
posted by Artw at 2:21 PM on February 15, 2013


Do you really want to live in a society (the Culture) with gods?

If you have a choice in the matter, they aren't really gods.
posted by straight at 2:27 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that there's a whole wave of SF&F work lately that's explicitly dealing with issues of culture and ethnicity, feminism, post-colonial societies, and non-European literary influences. A bit of a shout-out to some of those authors (who still never seem to be shelved at my local B&N) would be nice.

From the list I'd check out Octavia Butler and Marge Piercy in particular.
posted by Artw at 2:39 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


rebent: I guess I'm a little anarchic in that I am not sold on that. I think that authoritarian systems are bad precisely because they assume that one person (i.e. Vetinari) has the ability and therefor authority to determine what is good for others.

Ankh Moorpork isn't a utopia, and Vetinari isn't an ideal ruler. He's often wrong, and his primary survival strategy involves co-opting the minor cultural revolutions that the various protagonists pull off under his nose. The Watch is probably the biggest example. Vetinari's original social system involved an incompetent Watch. When Vimes "gets religion" (in the form of a belief in law) and a backbone, Vetinari gives Vimes a mandate, a budget, a building, and a lot of hints to mysteries that are inconvenient for Vetinari. Similar dynamics are going on with Moist and Lady Sybil.

Central to Pratchett's social theory is the idea that culture involves the adoption of ideas or myths, and the protagonists are usually innovators who challenge the status quo with different, more progressive myths. Vetinari is primarily Pratchett's Deus ex Machina who shows up in the penultimate chapter to shortcut the messy and often bloody process of adoption by claiming those ideas for himself.

Artw: From the list I'd check out Octavia Butler and Marge Piercy in particular.

Certainly, both with works from the 1970s along with Le Guin. My suggestion is that there's a lot of work published in the last decade that probably stands better than the lukewarm endorsement for Pullman.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:04 PM on February 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


A good and interesting list. But The Master and Margarita is so very far and away the best it's embarrassing for the others.
posted by jfuller at 3:49 PM on February 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Haha no, Yevgeny Zamyatin's 'We' can stand in any list, anywhere. Way better than 1984, for my money, despite a few kinks in the plot. Besides, the list includes J. Swift.
posted by ersatz at 4:35 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does it mean anything that I wanted to slap him unconscious before I even got to his pic?

Wow. I apologize for ever calling anyone on the Blue a socialist. At the height of our worst disagreements, I respected all of you more than this pretentious douche.


Over time I only read non-fiction work and discovered something missing.

Really? Really? Quit tying to rise above the proletariat, and go back to the factory (aka, "don't quit your day job").
posted by pla at 5:15 PM on February 15, 2013


And you are representing what? Assholes?
posted by Artw at 5:26 PM on February 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Hmm.. I've read a lot of sci-fi, but I've only read a couple of the books on his list. It has me wondering if I know what Socialist means, or if he does, but my conclusion is a distinct 'who cares'. I guess that's why the left has mostly moved on to terms like Progressive.

Also, Player Piano.
posted by Chuckles at 5:26 PM on February 15, 2013


Does it mean anything that I wanted to slap him unconscious before I even got to his pic?

Wow. I apologize for ever calling anyone on the Blue a socialist. At the height of our worst disagreements, I respected all of you more than this pretentious douche.

Over time I only read non-fiction work and discovered something missing.
The text before the pic is from the blogger, not Mieville.

Do you mind explaining why you think Mieville is a pretentious douche? Can you find a way to express yourself without the condescending thread shitting?
posted by quosimosaur at 5:37 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've read a lot of sci-fi, but I've only read a couple of the books on his list.

I haven't read everything on this list, but what I have read I would happily recommend to anyone. Quite a lot of what I haven't read I would be interested in checking out based on reputation.

And if there are two things China Mieville knows about it would be science fiction and socialism.
posted by Artw at 5:44 PM on February 15, 2013


No Brunner, no Farmer, no *Sturgeon*?? What planet is this dood from?
posted by Twang at 5:59 PM on February 15, 2013


quosimosaur : The text before the pic is from the blogger, not Mieville.

Did I use the name "Mieville" in what I wrote? Hmm?
No. No, I did not.


Can you find a way to express yourself without the condescending thread shitting?

I consider that a decent and well-annotated list. I didn't show off by commenting on how he left out my favorite author (actually, he included Dispossessed, so, good on him!), I didn't complain that he called anarchosyndicalists "communists", I didn't even ask to see his birth certificate.

I do, however, have a suggestion for you... When quoting content 99% ripped off from a single source, go to that source. Don't cite someone else ripping it off in its entirety. When in doubt, figure out which one would take longer to describe in-line as a proper APA reference.


/ That said, I have to admit I took the list itself as satire until about a third of the way through :)
posted by pla at 6:33 PM on February 15, 2013


He's from a planet where he has a vast and deep knowledge of both SF and socialism.
posted by Justinian at 6:35 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


(in response to Twang)
posted by Justinian at 6:35 PM on February 15, 2013


I'm not sure where I stand politically but I find leftist sci-fi/fantasy like Moorcock, M John Harrison and Norman Spinrad much more fun than dreary feudalist Tolkien pastiches. They seem more fantastic, for want of a better word. But no JG Ballard?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:01 PM on February 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aliens should get a mention on any socialist sci-fi movie list, since the representative of capitalism spends half the movie as ineffectual and then, when his true nature is revealed, he's treated with total contempt by the rest I'd the characters. "At least the Aliens don't screw each other over for a goddamn percentage".
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:05 PM on February 15, 2013


Double post.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:07 PM on February 15, 2013


No Spider Robinson? He's a perfect example of a Fox News parody of a socialist: all problems in his books are solved by pot-induced telepathic orgies. And he's Canadian.

His love of Heinlein may disqualify him though.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:15 PM on February 15, 2013


The thing that struck me about the title line is that "vile and ponderous" sounds like something Mieville's own books could be described as, but in approving terms. His writing is intentionally and self-consciously baroque and deliberately focused on the viscus fluids of decaying societies.

From the list I'd check out Octavia Butler and Marge Piercy in particular.

Not on the list, but you might enjoy N. K. Jemisin as well. Fantasy, rather than SF (although some aspects of the "gods" and cosmology are sci-fi-ish if you look at it from the right angle and squint), and also relevant to the question of how deities and social systems interact.
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:03 PM on February 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Justinian: He's from a planet where he has a vast and deep knowledge of both SF and socialism.

Indeed, a planet where he has written Clarke and Hugo award-winning novels, and in which he is a politically-active socialist who stood for the UK Parliament on the Socialist Alliance platform.

Is he unknown in the US or something? I'm surprised at the number of people questioning his standing to talk about these topics.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:00 AM on February 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is he unknown in the US or something? I'm surprised at the number of people questioning his standing to talk about these topics.

He's kind of a niche player in the genre over here, I think, despite the awards. And I doubt his politics are a widely-known topic.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:03 AM on February 16, 2013


Is he unknown in the US or something? I'm surprised at the number of people questioning his standing to talk about these topics.

As an American I believe I first heard of him on MeFi, and as often as not, when I bring him up in conversation no one else has heard of him. He's not unknown but he isn't wildly popular either.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:00 AM on February 16, 2013


This surprises me. I feel like I saw Perdido Street Station in every bookstore for years.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:06 AM on February 16, 2013



This surprises me. I feel like I saw Perdido Street Station in every bookstore for years.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:06 AM on February 16 [+] [!]


He has popular books here in North America, but he doesn't have the same prestige he has across the pond. You'd have to actually do some independent research to realize that here. The same may very well be true of Banks as well.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:27 AM on February 16, 2013


My suggestion is that there's a lot of work published in the last decade that probably stands better than the lukewarm endorsement for Pullman.

The original list is actually from 2002, if I remember correctly, so it's no wonder it's missing anything later than that.

No Spider Robinson?

Of course not. Dude's got taste and Robinson always was a pot smoking Republican.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:59 AM on February 16, 2013


Ursula K. Le Guin—The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974) - Yup, she's amazing. Really all of her writing is very political, in a very thoughtful way.

UKLeG: Anthro-political novels. Somewhat reassuring, in a disturbing sort of way. (People can be good, if only you can get them to...stop being such dicks....) When I was younger I thought she was quite brave for attacking gender-based outrages; nowadays I see her as ethical. Back in the day, the dialogue between the sexes was a lot more primitive than it is nowadays, so her premise (of a fluid sexuality, upending the stereotypes) inspired a WTF? reaction in me, then my eyes got accustomed, so to speak, to the light. In any case her books were engrossing and intelligent. Hers was a tactic of showing, not telling.

A Scanner Darkley : Dick's hope that the machine can be resisted. Eventually. Disturbing, not at all reassuring. Anti-capitalist? Yeah, I think so. Socialistic? Maybe not so much.
posted by mule98J at 9:20 AM on February 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


My experience is that Mieville is better known in the US than Banks is, or at least that was true a few years ago.

When I was doing a summer college program in Glasgow in 2000, I happened to be at a bookstore and thought "Hey, I'll check out the SF section, maybe there are some different authors." I picked up Consider Phlebas and read about 150 pages of it right there.
posted by selfnoise at 9:21 AM on February 16, 2013


My experience is that Mieville is better known in the US than Banks is, or at least that was true a few years ago.

Mine too, but I live in a cave. I’ve seen Miellville’s book’s around and noticed them, but didn’t know anything about his politics. I read that Banks book just as some random thing I picked up, I didn’t know who he was.
posted by bongo_x at 9:32 AM on February 16, 2013


ennui.bz: "after CP Banks sort of fell in love with his creation and hasn't really tried to show why "The Culture" is actually a dystopia."

I think his perspective changed, absorbing the SF fad of computationism ad infinitum. The supra-human position of the Minds is made clear. Humans move from being (bit part) actors to basically irrelevant, almost unnoticed flea-like pets (virtually the only Minds that actually talk with and interact with humans on a 1:1 basis are shown, repeatedly, to be atypical and weird and vaguely perverted or antiquated). Your dog might decide it's living in a dystopia one day when it doesn't get enough treats, then a utopia the next when it gets a bone. Either way, it makes no real sense, from a human point of view, to call that environment a dystopia or utopia (although your dog may disagree).
posted by meehawl at 3:49 PM on February 16, 2013


I think calling humans irrelevant, unnoticed flea-like pets is a misreading of the situation. Explicitly so, given what we're shown in The Hydrogen Sonata. A human crew of sufficient size is vital to the psychological health of most ship minds. The ones with too small a crew end up eccentric at best.

So humans are more like those cute dogs that keep old people company to keep them from going crazy.

I suppose thats why I like Use of Weapons and Surface Details so much. Say what you will about Zakalwe, irrelevant he is not.
posted by Justinian at 7:33 PM on February 16, 2013


Humans matter in Matter.

And in Player of Games it was the human, not the ship, that brought down the Empire of Azad.

after CP Banks sort of fell in love with his creation and hasn't really tried to show why "The Culture" is actually a dystopia.

Nah, he'll come around. In Look to Windward the Chelgrian protagonist almost succeeded in taking out an Orbital before the dystopic bad guys got him.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:11 PM on February 16, 2013


Is Mieville a good public speaker? I think he's appearing in Australia again.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:15 PM on February 16, 2013


I saw him in Berkeley on his tour for The City and the City, and, yes.
posted by Zed at 8:19 PM on February 16, 2013


Yep. Absolutely brilliant. Although, when in Seattle for his Kraken tour he seemed somewhat confused that his confession to being a "cephalopod enthusiast" was received with a standing ovation.
posted by stet at 9:24 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Today I learned that GBH is an acronym for Grievous Bodily Harm, and not, as I'd been told, Great Britain Hardcore.
posted by whir at 9:44 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Okay, so maybe not fleas. But as for the "human" perspective counting, well, one way of looking at it is as a streetlight effect, a selection bias. We see what affects humans in Culture books because that's what we're cognitively equipped to perceive. But that's only taking place in dimensions 1-4 of the Iain Banks 11-dimensional universe, and only in relation to baryonic matter. As he explains in Hydrogen Sonata , that's infinitesimally small compared to the sublimed dimensions 8-11, and the grossly unequal relation between the Sublimed and the Culture Minds is analogous to the relation between the Minds and the humans. It's a bit like the relation between Baxter's Xeelee versus, well, everyone except post-humanity.
posted by meehawl at 11:03 PM on February 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


And in Player of Games it was the human, not the ship, that brought down the Empire of Azad.

But the player of games seems to be a bit of a pawn wrt his role in the Empire of Azad and he's played by his little bot 'friend'.
posted by ersatz at 3:18 AM on February 17, 2013


Speaking personally as a lapsed libertarian and an increasingly strident socialist (don't tell my parents) I would say that a lot of libertarians are just new wine, and eventually they will age and reject Rand and then, if allowed to age a little longer, will one day find themselves far left of where they once stood and on that day they'll be good old wine.

that metaphor kind of fell apart at the end there
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:23 AM on February 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


...and reading a lot of the books on this list certainly helped my aging process.
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:25 AM on February 17, 2013


Your dog might decide it's living in a dystopia one day when it doesn't get enough treats, then a utopia the next when it gets a bone. Either way, it makes no real sense, from a human point of view, to call that environment a dystopia or utopia (although your dog may disagree).

Well, they do eat dogs in parts of Asia and even in the US, where they are our bestest friends, we reflexively cut off their genitals to keep them under control so... not the best analogy if you are trying to avoid calling a situation a dystopia. But I guess the Orbitals that get sick of their pets and flush them into space or carefully reduce them all to more useful organic molecules don't get mentioned...
posted by ennui.bz at 11:24 AM on February 17, 2013


10 Sci Fi and Fantasy Works Every Conservative Should Read
posted by Artw at 6:58 AM on February 25, 2013


Interesting, thanks. I'd love longer explanations of what he thinks conservatives could take from the book (also to find out his definition of conservativism).
posted by ersatz at 3:53 PM on February 25, 2013


Lovecraft's the one I find funniest there, since the plot of almost everything he's written is "conservative finds out he's fundamentally mistaken about the world, goes mad/dies".
posted by Artw at 4:28 PM on February 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is this whole list a troll?

David Brin, The Postman

Very different from the awful movie starring Kevin Costner. Essentially a meditation on the meaning of survival after the collapse of state order. One vision is represented by neo-pagan “Holnists,” for whom survival means the violent triumph of the individual. Another other is embodied by the drifter Gordon, who puts on a discarded postman’s uniform to keep warm but ends up re-founding civil society by carrying mail between isolated settlements.


So conservatives should read a book that, by his own admission, is about the triumph of the communal spirit as embodied in a government agent (the book is also on my list of 'Top 10 Books Fallout Fans Should Read').

Lovecraft's the one I find funniest there, since the plot of almost everything he's written is "conservative finds out he's fundamentally mistaken about the world, goes mad/dies".

If they're taking Lovecraft at face value, they're basically saying "accept all the coded racist messages in it".
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:51 PM on February 25, 2013


I mean, it's either an extremely fair-minded list, or it's a troll.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:55 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


10 Sci Fi and Fantasy Works Every Conservative Should Read

I think that was supposed to read "10 Sci Fi and Fantasy Works Every Conservative Should Read if the want to come to their senses" or else he got a very different impression from those books than I did.
posted by bongo_x at 5:49 PM on February 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


He did say that the list wasn't necessarily of books with conservative themes, but stuff that conservatives could learn from. It's possible that not every conservative is Snidely Whiplash.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:07 PM on February 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Holy shit nobody actually linked Micheal Moorcock's essay Epic Pooh, about how reactionary most fantasy is.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:09 PM on February 25, 2013


It's possible that not every conservative is Snidely Whiplash.

I don’t actually think that, though I joke. There’s also Dick Dastardly.
Many books on that list though read to me as having a very anti-Conservitive message.
posted by bongo_x at 10:56 PM on February 25, 2013


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